Photo: Buffalo Arts Studio
Kids — and let’s face it, adults, too — envision having glamorous, creative jobs that feature excitement, autonomy and glitz, and provide enough money to live. Dancer, actor, musician, and writer grace the tippity-top of kids’ dream job lists. Finances (and pesky logistics like insurance) aside, the reality of pursuing creative, independent career paths can have unexpected downsides. Having a Room of One’s Own to toil in sounds like an audacious, sprightly step toward workaday Utopia, until you wake, work, eat, sleep, and fail to socialize in the same space too many days in a row.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16.5 million people’s jobs are classified as having “alternative work arrangements.” Luckily for freelance creatives, an entire industry has sprouted up to support the gig economy.
Take the Niagara-Buffalo region, long a hotbed — believe it or not — of cutting edge creativity that could, and does, rival New York City and London’s Soho.
The Albright-Knox Art Gallery, the sixth-oldest public art institution, kicked the art scene off for the region in 1862. With former President Millard Fillmore among its early founders, it could have moldered quietly on its laurels, but instead, it cannon-balled into the 20th century with the hiring of former Whitney Museum intern Linda Cathcart as curator. She opened the institution’s creaking doors to the blindingly modern works of Bruce Nauman, Ed Ruscha, Hanna Wilke, Steina and Woody Vasulka.
Photos of Albright-Knox Art Gallery from a recent visit during the Robert Indiana: A Sculpture Retrospective exhibition.
Around the same time, a group of young visual artists were hungering to share their vision of modern life in a space that reflected their spirit of collaboration and progressive politics. Cindy Sherman and Michael Zwack founded the iconic art space Hallwalls in a former icehouse in the 1970s, with support from Charles Clough and Robert Longo. Then Artpark opened in 1974, dedicated to the legendary land artist Robert Smithson, and managed to nurture Gordon Matta-Clark, Alan Saret, Charles Simonds, and others.
Earlier days at Hallwalls. Charles Clough center. Photo: Hallwalls Contemporary Arts Center
In 1973 Gerald O’Grady had the foresight to sense that, along with providing support and space for creatives to showcase their wares, a more intangible need was arising: one for not just intellectual community, but actual, physical, spatial community. He founded the University of Buffalo’s Center for Media Study and the nonprofit Media Study/Buffalo, helping to embed a culture of nurturing film and mixed media talent in the region and to provide exhibit space and access to equipment. Documented in Buffalo Heads: Media Study, Media Practice, Media Pioneers, 1973–1990, O’Grady’s program is, as described in the book, “legendary. Artists—including avant-garde filmmakers Hollis Frampton, Tony Conrad, and Paul Sharits, documentary maker James Blue, video artists Woody Vasulka and Steina, and Viennese action artist Peter Weibel—investigated, taught, and made media art in all forms, and founded the first Digital Arts Laboratory. These Buffalo faculty members were not just practicing artists, but also theorists who wrote and spoke on issues raised by their work. They set the terms for the development of media art and paved the way for the triumph of video installation art in the 1990s.”
In recent years, there are three organizational spaces that have emerged to support creatives in the Buffalo/Niagara region, from avant-garde film artists to independent freelance techies who cannot stand the prospect of writing code in their PJ’s for another day.
The NACC is the OG version (need we translate?! “Original Gangster”) of the region’s art spaces. If you are planning to launch the next Google, more power to you (and perhaps you can sit on the board), but the NACC only takes on artists.
The space itself comprises 180,000 square feet of a former Niagara Falls High School. It was created after a grassroots movement saved it from demolition in 2000. Currently, it houses more than 75 artists and arts groups in former classrooms, transformed into studios.
The rent is artist-friendly at $201 per month, about $2.75 per square foot.
Members of the public are welcome. The NACC has created two galleries, two theaters, multiple outdoor venues, a sound stage, a winter bocce court, and a radio station at which community members can take in the sonic and visual buffet on offer. Every year, the NACC hosts festivals for African-American and Native American arts and music, opera performances, plus 12+ gallery exhibits, artisan markets, theater performances, workshops, and lectures.
Photo: The Niagara Arts & Cultural Center
Pint-sized artists are especially welcome; part of the NACC’s mission is to offer after-school and summer programs in art, history, music, and tech for children in the City of Niagara Falls.
The NACC is located at 1201 Pine Avenue in Niagara Falls.
BAS is a nonprofit arts organization created to provide studio space for 33 resident artists who reach out to underserved members of the community with exhibits, public art, and educational programs.
Artists have to apply, but, if they land a spot, the prices are affordable, ranging from $140 to $300 per month.
The studios here are most suitable for the classic visual artist who doesn’t need much esoteric tech equipment. Launched in 1991, BAS began renting out studio space to artists in a 15,000 square foot space in the Tri-Main Center. The first gallery opened the next year, and in 1993, its artists spruced up Delaware Park with murals.
BAS also provides tuition-free arts training to 50 students, taught by professional artists.
BAS is located at 2495 Main Street, Suite 500, in Buffalo.
Dig Buffalo, aka the Innovation Center, is happy to host any form of freelancer or creative, as long as they’re happy in a classic office environment. In other words, if your idea of getting creative is writing, graphic design, or plotting the next tech revolution, then hit them up. Should you require the kind of space where you can scream like Antigone, throw clay, or slop paint, do not pass go for this opportunity.
Photo: Dig Buffalo
There’s also — unlike almost any other work space we’ve encountered — access to private office space, a fitness center, print/fax/mail facilities, kitchenettes, common areas, and a pharmacy. It’s like an old-school office combined with a dorm and all of the perks of the aforementioned spaces and none of the baggage.
Dig is located at 640 Ellicott Street in Buffalo.
So is the next Cindy Sherman (or Bill Gates) banging out their magnum opus in Western New York? TBD. But if they are, chances are good that they are -- or will find their way -- into one of these inspiring spaces.